PORTAGE PARK — A bid by the operators of the Patio Theater to serve booze during shows and other events ran into opposition Tuesday night from residents who said they feared the former movie palace would be transformed into a "nightclub."
But several owners of nearby businesses backed theater operator Charlie Burns' application for a liquor license, saying having a thriving theater on Portage Park's western edge in the Irving Austin Business District would benefit the entire area.
Burns said the theater would offer "an appropriate mix" of programming including films, comedy shows, lectures and "sit-down" concerts.
"We are thinking of it like a small Chicago Theater," Burns said. "There will be no concerts that could cause problems for the neighborhood or damage the theater. This is an elegant, beautiful theater and we want to keep it that way."
Burns and his team emphasized that many of the events at the theater would be geared toward children and their parents — prompting some in the audience to ask why they needed a liquor license if that was the case.
The theater plans to host as many as three events a week, Burns said. A liquor license would allow alcohol to be served until 2 a.m., according to the city ordinance.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said after the meeting he planned to meet with Burns about some of the suggestions made at the meeting to draft additional limitations on how the theater can serve beer, wine and spirits.
Although Sposato initially said he would block the application for the liquor license, he said Tuesday he would make a final recommendation to Liquor Commissioner Greg Steadman by April 5, the deadline for objections to be lodged with city officials.
Most 38th Ward residents who have contacted Sposato's office oppose the liquor license application, but some favor it, the alderman said. The deadline to register an opinion with his office is April 4, Sposato said.
In most cases, the city's liquor commission follows the recommendation of the ward’s alderman when deciding to issue a liquor license.
Joe and Melissa Basilone, who founded the Irving Austin Business District group, said they wanted the theater to thrive.
"Alcohol is just necessary in this day and age," said Joe Basilone, who owns Thrift & Thrive, Perkolator Cafe and Sputnik Records and Books with his wife. "You are not going to sustain a building of this size on pop and popcorn."
A majority of the crowd cheered the speakers who opposed the license application, while some who supported it won polite applause.
One man shouted out: "We don't want a seedy nightclub here," earning loud cheers and applause from the audience.
Those who said they opposed the liquor license application said theater owner Eddie Carranza's record of violations at the Congress Theater in Logan Square and problems at the Portage Theater made them wary of his plans for the Patio Theater, which he bought in the fall for $2.5 million.
City officials determined the Congress Theater — while under Carranza's management — created a nuisance because of five separate illegal incidents involving drugs from September 2011 to April 2012.
In addition, Carranza and Burns have clashed repeatedly with Arena, who called the Portage Theater "a recipe for disaster" in November.
Janet Jarosz, who has lived a half-block away from the theater, said she was worried about her safety after a show where people had been drinking.
"What are you going to do when a drunk comes down my street at 11:30 at night when I'm walking my dog?" Jarosz asked.
Burns promised to hire a security team to patrol a two-block radius from the theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Road. In addition, Burns said he had reached an agreement with two nearby parking lots to allow theatergoers to park there and not on residential side streets near the theater.
Supporters of the theater said a liquor license would bring new life to the 89-year-old Patio Theater.
"I want to spend money in my own community," Julie Walker said.
The Rev. Paul Seaman, the pastor of St. Pascal Catholic Church, which is across the street from the theater, said that while he took no position on the license application, events held at the theater "should be clean and good for the community."
"This theater is one of the gems of the community," Seaman said. "It is in our interest for it to be a success."
"We need people to take chances in this area," Tao said.
Tao said his restaurant had not had a single bad incident related to the theater since it opened in 2015.
Jefferson Park Police District Cmdr. Bill Looney, who attended the meeting, said the Portage Theater had been problem free since he took over the district in December.
Many other similar venues in Chicago — including the Music Box Theater in Lakeview and Thalia Hall in Pilsen — have liquor licenses.
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